Social media. Isn’t it something? I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for social media. I don’t mean I would be dead (although you never know), I mean I wouldn’t be writing about beer. I initially started my blog and signed up for Twitter as part of a social media-focused degree. Beer soon became more of a passion and luckily for me I was studying out of interest rather than necessity and was able to drop my studies in favour of more beer.
I’m not going to lie, it was an easy decision.
Anyway, this isn’t my life story.
Recently Facebook has made changes to how content is shared to your followers as well as including paid-for-promotion. Essentially you pay and more people see your stuff. On the flip side, it means if you don’t pay and your content doesn’t get a lot of likes and comments, then less people see your stuff, even if they added you as a friend.
This has upset some corners of the brewing community, with James from Crafty Pint posting somewhat of a rant about it on his site.
Not being a user of Facebook – I decided to discuss these changes with social media specialist Tiffany Waldron, better known as Beer Girl Bites – whose business focuses on assisting beer focussed companies with social media advice or running their entire social media presence for them.
“You can’t deny the fact that (Facebook) needs money to run, and if the ads aren’t effective nobody is going to buy them so you need to find a way to make the ads effective; thus a way to make money because the servers that Facebook sits on cost money, the employees that work there cost money,” she said. “You wouldn’t expect to use anything for that long for free.”
Having been an internet user since the very early days, I have seen fads and companies come and go and know from experience that nothing can be taken for granted online.
After seeing names like Myspace, Napster, Geocities, and Peter Pan guy, all come and go; I’ve been genuinely surprised at Facebook’s staying power and how ubiquitous it has remained (it should be noted that Myspace is relaunching in 2013, although after seeing their launch video, I think they now plan to specialise primarily in rectangles).
Tiffany says that Facebook shouldn’t be the only tool people use to drive consumers to their site and but it still remains an effective one, and these changes may actually make it more effective by giving the option to target specific demographics.
Using the example of a beer festival, she said it is now possible and still relatively cheap to target users in a specific location who have “beer” in their profile. Thus getting your message right to the people you want it to.
If you don’t pay, your reach will be determined by number of “likes” and comments on your page and content.
“Facebook has changed a lot over the last, say, 2 years… this is just one more thing that has changed within Facebook that you need to adapt to; and yes that may mean you have to be more engaging on Facebook and it may mean that you need to be posting things that people are going to be compelled to like(or) be compelled to share with their friends… that will be a way to get people to see what you are doing without spending any more money,” Waldron said.
“When you’re writing something, instead of just writing what’s on your mind think about Facebook as a marketing tool and think about what will make people engage with this. People love pictures of beer and pictures of food – for whatever reason those work really well… we may all make fun of it but we’ll probably also hit the like button.”
While Facebook changes, using it, along with Twitter (which also has paid for tweets), in my opinion, remain just as effective as ever. Both are excellent tools for conversing with fans or encouraging conversation about your product.
Tiffany suggests engaging with the public, particularly the detractors, is one of the strengths of social media.
“If you can change someone’s negative experience into a really positive experience it is probably more influential that a positive experience to begin with because it is public.”
“Conversation is important and a lot of brands wouldn’t be where they are without the personality behind them.” She said.
She continued, saying how important it is to use social media to get your product out there and noticed.
“If you are not using it and you are in beer you are probably missing out on sales. When I set up new venues I can tell you the first five beer sales reps that will tweet, DM (direct message) and email and they are the first ones every time and that is probably why they are in so many venues.”
Personally I can see both sides of the changes. Setting up a new event or venue, it is now even more effective to get your information out there, but someone in Crafty Pint’s position, where he isn’t advertising a specific event or product as such, but rather continuously informing; then it may not be ideal. The same for brewers who may not be advertising something specific at a given time but just want to share content with their fans, they may now be cut off from that.
However, Facebook has given a lot for nothing over the years and it inevitably had to change to survive. At the end of the day, as harsh as it sounds, they don’t have any responsibility to the users and now they are a publicly traded company, profit is everything.
The scary thing is that it is so ingrained into modern internet usage that it is going to be a while before the alternatives are viable to use for the same purpose. Google+ is the obvious next choice but anyone who uses it can attest to how far that has to go before activity and usage is comparative.
So for now, the reality of the situation seems to be quite simply – like it or lump it.